LongRoadToAbileneFLATMy publisher, Wolfpack, has just released my newest novel; LONG ROAD TO ABILENE.  Although it is, ultimately a Western novel, early in the book Cade McCall, the protagonist of the story, is hijacked aboard a sailing ship the FREMAD.  Because of that, about one quarter of the story takes place on the ship.

I didn’t create the Fremad out of whole cloth.  I actually spent some time on board the Fremad, which, at the time of my adventure, was a 100 year old three-masted barquentine, meaning square rig sails on the foremast, (requiring sailors to go aloft to hoist, or reef the sails) while the main and mizzen are lenteen rigged.

I was in the Bahamas when my adventure began, looking out the hotel window one morning to see a big, black, sailing ship that looked as if it had fallen through a wormhole in time. Renting a rowboat from the hotel, I rowed out to the ship, but didn’t see anyone.

“Ahoy the ship!” I shouted, using my best nautical language.  After all, I had written three books about sailing ships already, even if this was the first one I had ever actually seen.

A young man in his early twenties stepped to the side rail.  “Hi,” he called down.

Well, that killed my illusion….I wanted him to at least say…”Arrrgh,” or something.

“Permission to board?” I called up to him.

“Sure, tie your boat off, and I’ll drop a ladder.”

The young man who had invited me aboard was Burt, and no sooner had we gotten acquainted when another young man, about the same age, came climbing up.  His name was Eddie, and he was wearing a bathing suit.  He was dripping wet, because he had been diving in Naha Harbor.

They told me that, shortly after arriving, their maneuvering propeller had fallen off, and was lying on the floor of the harbor.  So far their search for it had been fruitless.  Wanting to work my way into their good graces, I volunteered to help find the propeller, so the next time Eddie went down, I went with him.  The bottom was about twelve feet….not terribly deep for scuba diving, but neither of us had scuba equipment.  Finally we found it, and attaching a line to it, brought it back to the surface.

The rest of the crew had been ashore, and they returned then; Johnny, Claire, and Chantal. I learned their history.  Burt, Eddie, and Johnny had gone to Europe….separately….to buy a boat.  They met, for the first time, at the auction, and all three of them were intrigued by the idea of owning a 100 year old ship.  So these three, perfect strangers,  pooled their resources, and bought it.  Johnny was the oldest, and the most experienced sailor, so they appointed him captain.  Claire was Johnny’s girlfriend, and she had flown to Calais to make the trip back across the Atlantic with them.

Chantal, an exceptionally beautiful young French girl had come aboard during their launching party….gotten drunk, and passed out below deck.  They didn’t discover her until they were several hours into their journey.  They offered to take her back, but she said she would like to stay with them, if they didn’t mind.  She had only the bikini she had been wearing when she came aboard, so Claire loaned her a pair of jeans and a shirt to wear.

I learned, also, that they were completely out of money, had no way of getting the propeller repaired, and were down to half a wheel of cheese and a demijohn of wine.  I offered to pay for the repair, and restock their larder, if they would take me with them, and they agreed, but asked a favor of me.

“Chantal has no passport, no visa, no papers of any kind.  Could you take her to the US consulate and get something that will let her into the country?  You can tell them she is translating a book for you.”

I agreed, and telling the consulate people that Chantal lost her papers in a storm during the crossing, they issued her a visa, with me listed as her sponsor.

I was given the first mate’s “cabin” which was a cubicle large enough for the bunk, and to allow leg room so I could actually sit on the side of the bunk.  With food on board, and the propeller repaired, we pulled anchor and set sail.

During the next couple of weeks I lived the entire experience of an 18th and 19th century sailor…completely.  We had no electricity, and we had no radio.  I made the climb to hoist and/or reef the t’gallant (top gallant, the highest sail on the mast) and I manned the helm, using the large, pedestal mounted compass to maintain a heading.

When we passed through the Gulfstream current, we began taking on water through the strakes, and that began eight hours of manning the bilge pump.  During the quiet times, I pictured myself in various nautical pursuits from history . . . as a crewman on the Santa Maria . . . with Captain Christopher Jones and the Mayflower, with Jean Lafitte, the pirate, with Rafael Semmes on board the Confederate Raider, The Alabama.  As we sailed through the Bermuda Triangle, I regaled the rest of the crew with stories of the mysterious losses in the Triangle, and was surprised that none of them had ever heard of it before.

Finally we reached Ft. Lauderdale and officials came aboard to examine our papers.  US drivers’ licenses were enough for us, and the Visa worked for Chantal.

“Whew,” Johnny said.  “I was really worried about Chantal.”


“She didn’t just ‘pass out’ at the party.  She was serving a prison term for writing bad checks.  She was on a work release program… she’s an escaped prisoner.”

I was as relieved  as Johnny and Chantal, because it was my name that got her the visa.

“What are you going to do with her now?” I asked.

“Nothing.  She’s not our problem.”

“But you brought her here.”

“So, she’s here.  She’s on her own.”

“Chantal, do you have any money?” I asked.

“Non,” she replied in a soft, sultry, French accent.

I gave her a one hundred dollar bill, which she stuck down in one of the cups of her bikini top.

“Which way are the most expensive hotels?” she asked.

“Chantal, this is Ft. Lauderdale.  Any way you go, you’ll be going toward expensive hotels,” Claire said.

“I’ll be fine,” she said, as she started walking down the beach.

In the 45 years since I last saw her….I have often wondered what happened to her.  I hope she met some rich American who, taken with her beauty and considerable charm, married her….and gave her a good life.

In LONG ROAD TO ABILENE, Cade’s experiences on board the Fremad are considerably different from my own . . . but at least the ship is the same.

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